By Abdullahi Bego
“Of all the forms of inequality”, Dr. Martin Luther King once said, “injustice in healthcare is the most shocking and inhuman”.
Although Dr King spoke in the 1960s America, a time when discrimination was more widespread, and people of colour were mostly at the receiving end, his statement speaks to a condition that would resonate with people all across the world – wherever people lack access to quality, affordable healthcare.
This was the case in Yobe State before Governor Gaidam came to power. It was a tempestuous period when a majority of hospitals lacked even the most basic equipment and supplies, and medical doctors, including those trained from the state’s taxpayers’ money, took flight to more rarefied environments. It was a healthcare system at its very nadir – dysfunctional, dispirited, disincentivized.
And so, before the advent of the Gaidam administration, many people were forced to seek for medical care elsewhere – in neighbouring states and in neighbouring Niger Republic. Those who could afford travelled to even far distant places. Because basic gynaecological and obstetric care was also lacking, more women fell victim to avoidable childbirth complications, making already grim maternal, newborn and child healthcare statistics even grimmer.
This may not be ‘injustice’ in the classic sense of wilful denial. But it is shocking and, yes, inhuman to have a situation in which an entire population lacked basic healthcare for such a very long time.
When he came to power, Governor Gaidam was appalled that incremental efforts to retrofit the system weren’t working and so he declared an ‘emergency’ in the healthcare sector; a comprehensive measure to address systemic decay and dysfunction in a more intense and more organised way.
It’s been many years since that declaration and Yobe still has a long way to go but Yobe – and Governor Gaidam personally – can take pride in the distance so far travelled and the progress so far made; progress that is measurable and palpable and a shift in the paradigmatic conception of healthcare in the state.
At the top of the chart is improvement in secondary and tertiary care. The Gaidam administration has spent huge sums of money to rebuild and expand some of the general hospitals in the state’s major towns – Potiskum, Gashu’a, Gaidam. The hospitals in Damagum, Dapchi and Jakusko towns were also retrofitted and provided with new equipment and consumables.
The Gaidam administration has also built a new teaching hospital – the crown jewel of the healthcare system – and a new College of Medical Sciences based inside the State University campus in Damaturu.
Along with the recruitment of nearly 600 medical personnel, including doctors, nurses, and other specialists, these capital investments speak to the long-term vision of the governor regarding how the state can tend to its professional healthcare needs while providing the care that the people need.
With rising staffing levels both at the teaching hospital and some of the other hospitals across the state – and additional visitor consultants from the University of Maiduguri Teaching Hospital – people in Yobe State can stay confident that specialists are always available to cater to their healthcare needs when they fall sick.
With a new College of Medical Sciences, people in the state can be sure that over the long term, Yobe will have the capacity to meet its trained, indigenous doctor needs. Right now, the Gaidam administration is footing the bill for the training of over 400 medical students within and outside the country. These students – and others to be trained at the Yobe University College of Medical Sciences – will together strengthen the nucleus of service delivery that the state will need in the years to come.
Pyelonephritic or renal disease, which is more prevalent in the northern part of the state, is a classic example for how a reformed healthcare system can meet the immediate and long-term healthcare needs of the people.
In northern Yobe, many people who suffer from kidney disease often travel long distances and require huge sums of money – which many do not have – to access dialytic care. For the first time in the state, the Gaidam administration has installed dialysis machines at the University Teaching Hospital (YSUTH) which are available to the public.
But more significant, the Yobe State Executive Council, under the leadership of the governor, has generously agreed that the state government will henceforth foot the bill for kidney dialysis for all Yobe indigenes who require the service.
This is more than timely. It means that many families have now been spared the agony of watching a loved one disappear behind the mask of kidney failure because the family cannot afford the cost of dialysis. It also means that many lives will be saved since people who have the disease can now access free, lifesaving care.
As these milestones are reached at the secondary and tertiary levels, Yobe’s primary healthcare has also waxed strong over the recent period, thanks in part to commendable partnerships with various development partners including the Bill and Melinda Gates and Dangote Foundations, the UK Department for International Development (DFID), WHO, UNICEF, and many others.
These partnerships – and Governor Gaidam’s commitment to meeting Yobe’s own counterpart funding obligations – have resulted in improved maternal and child healthcare services in hospitals and clinics and health centres across the state. They have also led to taming down and eliminating child killer diseases, freeing the state from the scourge of the Wild Polio Virus, and they have improved general community access to healthcare as well.
As a result, more women, for instance, are reporting in hospitals and health centres for medical care, leading to decrease in maternal, newborn and child mortality rates.
Another key part of the reform in Yobe’s healthcare also involves the placement of qualified professionals in middle and top management of the healthcare sector. Many doctors and healthcare professionals are buoyed by the commitment of Governor Gaidam to providing an effective healthcare sector and are therefore pitching in to their part and support the effort.
Little wonder that today, people from neighbouring states and even from the neighbouring Niger Republic are trooping in to hospitals in Yobe to access medical care.
It’s a case of the tables turning in the state’s favour: Yobe people used to travel to those neighbouring states and Niger Republic for medical care. Now it is people from those neighbouring states and neighbouring country that are coming to Yobe for medical care.
It is evidence of what happens when you have a leadership that is truly committed to the service of the people.
All told, Yobe’s healthcare sector under Governor Gaidam has fared commendably well. It is a work-in-progress, though, and more grounds will be covered in the remainder of the governor’s term in office and through the new APC administration taking over from him from May 2019.
Bego is Director-General for Media Affairs to Governor Gaidam of Yobe State and writes in from Damaturu